In my Serenity File series there is a government conspiracy. In developing the storyline I researched a variety of conspiracy theories. I read articles and books detailing the conspiracies, and I read articles and books debunking the theories. What I discovered was the Art of Disinformation.
What is Disinformation?
It is the art of intentionally hiding the truth. To some extent everyone engages in disinformation, although most people do it unknowingly. Every time someone exaggerates or leaves out information they are engaged in disinformation.
Have you ever interviewed a witness? Well, it is an interesting challenge. They will often leave out information they don’t think is important. Or they describe not what they saw, but their interpretation of what they saw. They may say that a suspect is tall, and to them he was, but in fact he may be of average height. They may have seen that the suspect’s hair was dark brown and made the assumption that the eyes were also brown, even if they could not really see them.
All of this is disinformation, but it is not the type of disinformation I am talking about today. Today I am talking about deliberate disinformation. The intentional hiding or confounding of the truth.
There are two key aspects to disinformation. The first is to remove or cast doubt on key evidence. The second is to offer alternative explanations.
Removing or Casting Doubt on Key Evidence
In the first case, you do not have to remove all the evidence, only enough so that more than one explanation fits the remaining evidence. There are several approaches depending on how much time and resources you have. To start, you may identify the evidence that is most easily refuted or destroyed. This will leave holes that people will naturally want to fill in. The second is to identify the most critical evidence. The more pivotal the piece of information that is missing the more alternative explanations that can be created and the weaker all explanations appear to be, including the real one.
Providing Alternative Explanations
The key here is to make the alternative explanation fit the evidence as well as the real story if not better. You can do this by supplying new evidence to support the alternative story. This can be done in a couple of ways. The first is to manufacture the evidence. This can be time consuming and expensive, but necessary if you need to convince individuals who will actually examine such evidence. When this is not the case, an alternative method is to simply reference evidence that does not actually exist. The majority of people will never check the validity of the statements made. If they read something that sounds reasonable and otherwise fits with the rest of the facts they will generally accept it. In this way new evidence can be introduced that a large number of people will accept without ever having to incur the cost of actually manufacturing it.
What About Those People Who Still Believe the Truth?
It doesn’t matter. The idea behind disinformation is that you don’t have to convince everyone. You only have to convince enough people to direct action your way. There will always be some people who know the truth. And some who suspect the truth. But most people only think they know the truth and are convinced everyone else is wrong.
What if the person who knows the truth is someone with great influence or power? There is actually a third factor that you can choose to employ. Discredit or cast doubt about the people who believe and are vocal about the real story. This can be done in a number of ways. You can attack their credibility directly by exposing information, secrets that would cause people to doubt their ability and/or honesty. If no dirt exists, then you can manufacture it. The secrets don’t need to be related to the cover up. There are certain things that, if exposed in the right way, will cause people to doubt someone: drug or alcohol abuse, extramarital affairs, deviant sexual behavior. Notice my choice of words. I could have said drug or alcohol use, infidelity, alternative sexual preferences. These last descriptions are not as emotionally loaded so they would not have as much impact.
It sounds like disinformation is indeed an art. Much like writing.